Open access journals are scholarly journals available to the reader "without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself." Some open access journals are subsidized (at least in the initial phase) while others require authors to pay the costs of publication.
There have also been several modifications of open access journals that have considerably different natures:
Open access journals are sometimes referred to as "gold" journals in reference to the SHERPA RoMEO color scheme categorizing a publisher's archiving policies. While the original color scheme did not include "gold," it was added as a way to distinguish between open access publishers and other publishers that permit authors to self-archive pre-print and post-print versions of their papers.
Definitions and types
As defined in the Budapest Open Access Initiative, "open access" is "that which scholars give to the world without expectation of payment." However, there have been a number of modifications of this, both to increase the scope of the requirement, and to make it more flexible. Some journals make every article, including review articles, open access; other journals limit the commercial reuse of articles, and this would disqualify them according to the commonly accepted definitions.
In successively looser senses of the term, open access journals may be:
- Journals that are entirely open access
- Journals with research articles available in an open access manner
- Journals with some research articles available in an open access manner
- Journals with some articles available immediately as open access and other articles available after a delay (or 'embargo')
- Journals with articles available after a delay (or 'embargo')
- Journals which permitting self-archiving of articles.
In the categories and discussion below,
- Open access journals will be used for the first two groups,
- Hybrid open access journals for the next (two)
- (those with both delayed and hybrid open access have no clear name as yet)
- Delayed open access journals for the next
- And Journals permitting self-archiving for the last.
Financing open access journals
Subsidized journals are usually financed by an academic institution or a government information center. Those requiring payment from the author are typically financed by money from grants given to researchers from a public or private funding agency. The conditions of the grant may also stipulate that the research be published in an open access journal.
Advantages of open access in general
The obvious attraction of open access is that the content is available to readers everywhere without any direct charge. This will benefit:
- authors who will see their papers more read, more cited, and better integrated into the structure of science
- academic readers in institutions that cannot afford the journal
- lay readers who do not have access to academic libraries
- the general public, who will have the opportunity to see what scientific reseach is about
- taxpayers who will see the results of the research they pay for
- patients and those caring for them, who will be able to keep abreast of medical research
Advantages and disadvantages of open access journals as a mode of open access
The primary advantage of open access journals is that the entire content is available to users everywhere regardless of affiliation with a subscribing library. In contrast, with self-archiving, only some of the journal articles are available, and it is not possible for the reader to know which they might be.
An important motivation for most authors to publish in a open access journal is increased visibility and ultimately a citation advantage (see also Open access). Research citations of articles in a Hybrid open access journal has shown that open access articles are cited more frequently or earlier than non-Open Access articles .
However, in case of fee-based open-access journals, authors either need a sponsor (such as a funder or employer) to pay on their behalf, or personally pay the (generally large) publication fee.
Current problems and projects
Identifying open access journals and the articles in them
Articles in the major open access journals are included in the standard bibliographic databases for their subject, such as PubMed. Those established long enough to have an impact factor, and otherwise qualified, are in Web of Science and Scopus. DOAJ includes indexing for the individual articles in some but not all of the many journals it includes.
The major open access publishers include bibliographic data for the many journals they publish.
Major projects to provide open access journals
Pioneers in open access publishing in the biomedical domain were a few individual journals like the British Medical Journal (BMJ) (now no longer open access), the Journal of Medical Internet Research, and Medscape, which made their content freely accessible in the late 1990s . BioMedCentral, a for-profit publisher with now several hundred open access journals, published its first article in 2000 . The Public Library of Science launched its first open-access journal, PLoS Biology in 2003, PLoS Medicine in 2004, and several others since then, the most recent being PLoS One in 2006 .
The academic community generally is supportive of the principle of open access publication, but there are some important reservations.
1) In the end, somebody has to pay the costs of publication. In the conventional model, it is the reader who pays, either directly or through library subscriptions. In the open access model however, it is the author who pays. So who should determine what is published? Should it be those with the money to pay for it to be published, or those who decide whether this is information that they really need?
Open access publishers have all established mechanisms to subsidise the costs of publication for authors from countries with limited funds. However, there is concern about the sustainability of these arrangements, and there is concern that commercial open access publishers will "lower the bar" on publication because of the income from authors regardless of whether anyone wants to read their papers.
2) There is also concern about exactly how the editorial practices of open access journals operate. A great many academic journals at present are owned by scientific societies. The income from these journals to the societies is "ploughed back" into science often through support for instance for conferences and small travel grants. Open access publishing threatens these "community activities" which are generally important throughout science, but which are often not adequately supported otherwise. However, more fundamentally, the editorial policies of Society journals are ultimately determined by the particular community - the members of the Society. Society journals are thus "answerable" to the communities they serve in a way that open access journals are not. Commercial subscription journals are also not diectly answerable to their readership - but in an important way they too are answerable, in that commercial journals will not be supported libraries and readers generally if they are not meeting real academic needs.
Reactions of existing publishers to open access journal publishing have ranged from moving with enthusiasm to a new open access business model, to experiments with providing as much free or open access as possible, to active lobbying against open access proposals. There are many new publishers starting up as open access publishers, with the Public Library of Science being the best-known example.
Many journals have been subsidized ever since the beginnings of scientific journals. It is common for those countries with developing higher educational and research facilities to subsidze the publication of the nation's scientific and academic researchers, and even to provide for others to publish in such journals, to build up the prestige of these journals and their visibility. Such subsidies have sometimes been partial, to reduce the subscription price, or total, for those readers in the respective countries, but are now often universal.
In 1998, one of the first open access journals in medicine, the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) was created, publishing its first issue in 1999. What is remarkable about this development is that it was created by researchers for researchers, without involvement of any commercial publishers, and with practically no budget. JMIR remains a highly successful open access journal and to date is perhaps one of the few (the only?) OA journals which is not making a loss or is dependent on external grants (such as PLoS).
Open access by the numbers
- OA journals
- 2,514. December 31, 2006. The number of peer-reviewed OA journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).
- 577. January 13, 2007. Number of (paying) members of the Journal of Medical Internet Research, as published on the JMIR homepage
- 504. February 5, 2006. Number of institutional members of BioMed Central.
- 145. February 5, 2006. Number of institutional members of the Public Library of Science. PLoS doesn't provide this number; users have to count the institutions listed.
- 14.7. August 4, 2006. Impact factor for PLoS Biology, the highest for the category of general biology. See the PLoS Biology information page.
- 14. February 12, 2006. Number of journal declarations of independence.